Originally published in Paste Magazine.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty
Think about the amount of things that have changed since you graduated high school, or even college. With the creation of such a variety of technology and advances in devices that have been in existence since when you were in school, you can probably deduce the dramatic impact these things have had on your day-to-day life. With new advances-especially ones that connect us to one another- there are bound to be changes in how we consume information. In fact, the past decade or so has probably exhibited the biggest change in how information has reached the public.
The Great Recession
In July 2015, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication teamed up with the American Society of News Editors to get an accurate read of how newsrooms have changed in recent years. This census found that while there may be more digital outlets than ever before, print journalism-specifically local news is seriously dwindling. In 2007, there were approximately 1,400 daily newspapers scattered throughout the country, employing as many as 55,000 journalists full-time. In 2008, the recession began, and like just about every other industry out there other than mortuary science, journalism took a big hit.
Most papers receive a good chunk of their revenue from advertisements, and as companies became unable to afford advertising, papers became unable to pay all of their workers, or keep running at all. As small newspapers shut down, people who had job security their entire lives were left wondering what to do. Those who were new to the industry typically nixed the idea of being a journalist altogether, or fell victim to “unpaid internships.” They picked up the slack at a newspaper, doing everything that a seasoned reporter might do, only without a salary or promises that they may become paid employees. Some of those determined writers are still out there, but a lot of them have modernized their resume, and taken on positions as social media coordinators, or entered public relations.
Plenty of industries are on an upswing now, finally picking up the pieces from almost a decade’s worth of darkness. While there are a few glimmers of hope in the news industry-the Washington Post is planning to hire reporters “by the dozen,” according to Forbes-the numbers still don’t look good. The SJMC/ASNE census found that in 2013, there were 36,700 full-time journalists in the U.S., and in 2015, there were 32,900. However, one can argue that even though there may not be as many local newspapers still churning out high-quality content, the more accessible the internet and social media gets, the more news inevitably gets written. So what gives?
Advertising in a print publication or newspaper is worth less than when print reigned supreme, so even the few ads that are still regularly purchased aren’t drawing in the kinds of profits that they used to. Despite the fact that businesses can take out space for large, visually appealing advertisements, most print publications don’t have the draw that they once had. Online advertisement space, for the most part, is sold for less money. Distribution numbers aren’t what they used to be, either. According to the Pew Research Center, 2015 was the worst year for newspaper circulation since 2010. Weekday newspaper circulation fell 7 percent and Sunday circulation fell 4 percent.
Think about it-when is the last time you read a physical newspaper that you didn’t get for free? Do you venture past your 10 free articles on a given news site?
With papers being pushed online, there isn’t enough money coming in to pay a sufficient amount of reporters for quality coverage. Local papers are filled with overworked, stressed writers trying to meet their daily quota of stories, rather than a staff that is able to thoroughly research and craft an article which is both entertaining and informative. With such an emphasis on immediate news when a situation arises, everyone needs to learn how to focus on both quality and quantity. It’s not newspapers that struggle, though. After all, have you looked at the stories written for your local news station’s site? Most of those stories are written by interns or even the newscasters…and it shows.
Another alternative when it comes to cutting down on staff is relying on wire services. As great as it is to be able to get unbiased news in the form of an inverted pyramid, it’s a shame when you see a bare-bones story from The Detroit News covering something that happened within walking distance of the office…with a byline from The Associated Press. Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the paper offered a buyout to all of its editorial staff-without disclosing how many people had to accept it in order to meet their 2017 budget goals.
We’re getting bored with fast fashion. The concept of buying a $10 dress that falls apart after a single wash just doesn’t make sense when you can pay a little more for one that will last longer. So when are we going to tire of this in the news industry? We’re getting the gist of what’s happening, at the expense of typos and incomplete information because there wasn’t ample time to fact-check. Because of this inaccurate reporting, there’s a growing distrust in the media. Should media outlets be held accountable? Yes. Should the reporters be responsible for spreading accurate information? Absolutely. But with fewer open positions and the same amount of work to be done, quality is the first to be sacrificed. In the words of Chris Wallace at the infamous second-to-last GOP debate, “you’ve got to do better than this.”
Journalism in the Digital Age
This may have come off as a bitter argument about why the media has taken the turn that it has, but there’s also plenty of good that’s come from the digital age of journalism. One may say that the ever-changing industry is simply experiencing growing pains-just a little more severe than other industries. As opposed to aching muscles, they’re more like torn tendons.
For a while, a career in journalism was out of reach for people with no formal higher education. Though it’s always been an industry that valued experience rather than prestigious credentials, it was tough to get the opportunity to even obtain that experience without having studied the craft. Now, since blogging has become a bona fide career path in and of itself, people are able to carve that career path out for themselves. Whether you like the idea of “citizen journalism” or not, it’s a real thing, and with the increasing distrust of the mainstream media, it’s what many people turn to inform themselves of the goings on in their neighborhoods, countries, and even the world.
Rather than waiting for the daily paper to be delivered to our doorsteps, we’re setting up notifications on our phones to let us know what’s happening in the world around us in real time. We may follow our favorite locals on Twitter, whether they’re reporters for our city paper, a political commentator, or that guy we went to high school with who always seems to have the inside information about what’s going on. We have a world of information literally right in our hands. We have no excuse to not be informed.
The Public’s Responsibility
Journalists are expected to adhere to certain ethics when it comes to informing the masses, and once anyone else begins spreading news to the masses, they should follow them as well. For example, people probably shouldn’t spread stories claiming that they were tossed off of a plane for speaking Arabic when it isn’t true, when there are millions of Muslims dealing with very real Islamophobia every day in this country. This story was debunked quickly after it initially spread like wildfire across the internet in the midst of holiday travel. If you’re about to take on the role of a citizen journalist-whether you use the title “YouTube personality,” “commentator,” “blogger,” or “guy with a lot of Twitter followers,” do better. And as always, as people reading these stories, we need to make sure they’re true to the best of our abilities.
There may be no need for a corner newsboy shouting recent happenings anymore, but in an ever-evolving industry in the middle of a tense political climate, there are always new duties to be filled.